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Designed for Success, Part 1

Annet King May 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Suppose you’re sitting in an empty room in your skin treatment center, in your spa or at home. The fact of the matter is—the room is not really empty. Even a seemingly vacant, still room is boiling over with energy and molecular interactions.

If you’re a student of feng shui, these interactions may be understood by considering the north/south/east/west position; when the structure was built; and the presence of certain materials, such as wood, metal and water, as well as many other factors. Even if this is not within your frame of reference, the dimensions and design of a room, as well as color, light, noise level and a myriad of other sensory variables, all contribute profoundly to how you feel when you’re in the space. Realizing that every aspect of a room—perhaps even the unseen ones—shapes its “personality” is the first essential step toward creating a productive, effective skin care center or spa.

Take the spa challenge

Most businesses require the creation and maintenance of a consistent professional aura. A financial planner’s office environment, for example, must convey order, control and trust. A relentlessly hip dress studio needs to ensure that its racks are draped with the most coveted frocks on the planet, setting trends at the speed of a mouse click. In other words, most businesses have a single branding mission, and they focus on carrying it out consistently for maximum success.

By contrast, a spa faces a very different challenge because the environment is not generally one-dimensional, such as the previous examples. Typically, you must design two very different areas within a spa business—a treatment environment and a retail environment. These consist of two radically different experiences under a single roof. Too often, spas concentrate only on creating relaxation, which is only half of the equation. The other half that generally is missing is a strong emphasis on sales.

A treatment area is all about nurturing the client. The qualities that commonly are associated with this experience include the following.

• Silence or soft sounds

• Soft lighting, verging on darkness

• Soft surroundings

• Slowing down (lowered blood pressure and lowered levels of stress hormones)

• Nonverbal communication

• Surrender and escape

These are passive qualities that some would refer to as yin. They are classically feminine attributes and are antithetical to the sort of energy needed to make a sales center hum. In contrast, your retail area must feature the following attributes.

• Animated by music that is loud and energetic

• Brightly lit to maximize display areas

• Easy to restock and clean—often meaning the inclusion of hard surfaces

• Designed for one-on-one prescriptive selling

• Conducive to engagement, connection, interaction and transaction

• Appealing on every sensory level, using multimedia and all modes of perception

These active qualities are yang, which are classically masculine. The effect that music has on the productivity and mood of workers has been studied for nearly 50 years—it’s how Muzak and the ubiquitous elevator music were born. Theories still vary, but it’s agreed that soft, slow music makes people feel the same way, while up-tempo programming is like audio caffeine—it makes people walk, talk, think and spend faster. Most spas get this wrong, which is one reason why retailing is difficult for them and why walk-in clients may feel intimidated as they enter the facility—if they enter it, that is. When the front reception area is a hushed, Zen-like environment, people may respond by becoming still and quiet as well, and, therefore, may be less likely to ask questions, browse, shop and buy.

The detail is in the retail

When visualizing your floor plan, look to the right. Eighty-five percent of the population is right-handed and will turn right as they enter your spa. The “hot spot,” about 20 feet to the right of the entrance, is often a no-fail tester zone. Usually, whatever is displayed in that area becomes a big seller.

Research shows that empty, poorly stocked shelves don’t sell product, because no one wants to purchase the last sunscreen or candle. They should be full, but not jammed to the point that clients can’t extract their selections easily.

The same goes for people. Ideally, you want the place to be buzzing, and that means some level of body contact. The music should be pumping, and clients should be reaching around each other to load up their baskets—just the opposite of the typical treatment room and spa experience. This is a good thing. Just beware of the fact that shoppers universally dislike colliding with poorly placed displays. Provide them with enough room to maneuver without becoming too close to the inventory or other clients. Casual contact, such as the brushing of shoulders or elbows, is OK and may even add to the excitement of hunter/gatherer consumerism.

Keep in mind that women are under more pressure than ever before in history, and this has altered their shopping patterns. The leisurely browsing and indecisive perusal that drove a generation of husbands wild with frustration is coming to an end, according to market experts. More and more women shop with a single task in mind, as well as an attitude of purpose and focus—what consumer analysts call the “hit and split.” Keeping this in mind, don’t waste her time with complicated displays and floor plans featuring inaccessible merchandise. Today’s woman is on the run and knows what she wants. Meeting her shopping needs today is almost like handing off a cold energy drink to a marathon runner as she sprints by the stands. Don’t get in her way!

Mapping the transition

According to Mathew Divaris, creative and marketing director for Dermalogica, the answers are all around you. “How we feel inside a space has a lot to do with elements as simple as the height of the ceiling. A low ceiling creates a feeling of intimacy, because it seems to press people more closely together. A slightly lowered ceiling in the reception and treatment areas, for instance, can make clients feel cozy and lets them believe that they have the undivided attention and care of the staff. It’s a private feeling,” he explains. “The ceiling can lift dramatically in a retail space—a more impersonal or public area. This feeling of ‘liftoff’ is energizing and exhilarating, and creates a sense of liberation, discovery and excitement. A higher ceiling also offers better acoustics and enhanced venues for strong lighting.”

Divaris cites two diverse examples—modern nightclubs and classical cathedrals—as instances of how manipulating space can influence emotion. “In both cases, opposed as they may seem, these two structures typically feature a long, narrow entryway with a low ceiling. This is sort of the check-in area, where you pass through the velvet ropes. Then, once you’ve been initiated, you step out into a space that just soars up around you. It resonates on a very deep, visceral level,” he says.

From this point, the challenge becomes one of synergy—how to keep your intake and retail areas buzzing with energy while keeping the treatment areas highly responsive to subtler client needs. It is like planning a true banquet—some dishes are sweet, others savory; some are rich and lingering, others palate-cleansing; some are highly seasoned and others cooling. The sequence of the presentation, as well as the balance of flavors and textures, make for an integrated, deeply satisfying experience. With creativity and planning, your clients will feel the same way about their encounter in your facility.

Find out more about the importance of colors, functionality, hygiene, client privacy and teamwork in relation to your spa’s design in Part II of this column.